Government should abandon plans to transfer health and safety to governors
Press release: 4 January 2012
Group calls for Government to abandon plans to transfer health and safety to school governors
A national asbestos trade union campaign group has called for the Government to abandon its plans to transfer the responsibility for health and safety in local authority schools from local authorities to school governors.
The Joint Union Asbestos Committee (JUAC) said that the recent judgement against the University of Lincoln indicated how easily things can go wrong with asbestos in educational institutions, and underlines how important it is for the Government to halt its plans to transfer responsibility away from local authorities who have the specialist knowledge and resources which are vital to local authority schools in the maintenance of their asbestos.
Julie Winn, Chair of JUAC, today said the governing body (and therefore the Governors) will be expected to become the employer and will have to assume the full legal responsibilities for the staff and the pupils in schools.
Winn, also a former Chair of Governors, said:
“Governors freely volunteered their time and expertise to support schools but this is a step too far. It is hard to envisage how Governors will cope with this additional responsibility with the limited time and resources available to them.
“Despite the fact that more than 75% of all UK schools contain asbestos, currently there exists no specific school guidance for the management of asbestos in schools nor any specific training on the management of asbestos in schools. The Government has also recently scrapped health and safety inspections of schools that ensured they were achieving safe standards.
“This is yet a further attempt to deregulate without proper consideration for the practical impact upon the risk to the health and safety of staff and pupils in UK schools. This is completely unacceptable when considered against the background of the UK which has the highest incidence of mesothelioma deaths in the world and with teacher deaths from mesothelioma increasing year on year.”
Michael Lees, founder of the Asbestos in Schools Group (AIS), said:
“Asbestos can kill unless it is effectively managed, therefore the best local authorities have trained, dedicated officials so they can achieve the rigorous standards required. This proposal will inevitably put staff and pupils at risk. It will also impose an intolerable burden on governors, for if something does go wrong then instead of legal action being taken against the local authority, it will in future be taken against the governors. One must question how many people will volunteer to be governors if that is the case.”
Joint Union Asbestos Committee (JUAC) is a trade union campaigning committee comprising the six main education unions: Association of School and College Leaders; Association of Teachers and Lecturers; National Association of Head Teachers; NASUWT; National Union of Teachers; Voice: the union for education professionals ( www.voicetheunion.org.uk/asbestos); plus the education sections of Unite, UNISON, UCATT and the GMB.
AIS is a campaigning and pressure non-party political group of organisations and individuals with an interest in making schools safe from the dangers of asbestos. The aim of the AiS is to make United Kingdom schools safe from the dangers of asbestos both for staff and pupils.
Parliamentary Questions: Health and Safety Monitoring
20.12.11Schools: Risk Assessment
To ask the Secretary of State for Education what plans he has to transfer health and safety responsibilities in schools from local authorities to governing bodies. 
Mr Gibb: The Department for Education is determined to reduce or amend health and safety law as it applies to schools to enable schools to take a proportionate and common sense approach to school activities.
In this context we are currently considering the options for transferring employer health and safety duties to governing bodies. For all schools where the local authority is currently responsible for health and safety, this would mean that these schools would gain the discretion and freedom already enjoyed by academy trusts, foundation, voluntary-aided and free schools. In practical terms it is the governing body that acts as the school staffs employer, even where in the majority of cases, the formal employment contract is with the local authority.
HC Deb 20 December 2011 cc1231W-
3. Legal responsibility for health and safety (including the risks posed by asbestos) in UK schools rests with the employer under the Health and Safety Act 1974, the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 and, specifically in relation to asbestos, the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2006.
In November 2011 Lincoln University was fined £10,000 for breaches of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.The University knew for some time about asbestos materials on site but did nothing to isolate or remove them .The threat of asbestos only came to light when a lecturer noticed asbestos debris around a door handle after the door had to be forced open: “University fined for asbestos failings" (HSE)
Voice Solicitor David Brierley
Tel: 01332 372 337